Genocide In Gaza

A lot of people on the progressive side of modern reality (the dim side), whether of the socialist left or the populist right, have gotten swept up in the rhetoric of “genocide” to describe the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza in the weeks since October 7th. It is sensational language, and by definition incriminating in the most extreme way. It therefore serves a purpose — a dim and devious one — for people motivated by a strong dislike for Israel and a strong taste for moral equivalency games.

To begin with the obvious, “genocide” is a term of art, invented in the 1940s to describe the attempted extermination of all Jews by the Nazi regime. Note of emphasis: the attempted extermination of all Jews. The term entails the killing or at least the potential and intended killing of an entire race or tribe. In other words, killing some members of a race does not constitute the killing of the race itself. Only the complete annihilation of all of the race can be identified as a genocide, and therefore only a genuine and verifiable attempt at such a complete annihilation may be identified as an intended genocide. Hence, genocides, to the extent that the term has validity at all, are extremely rare events, hardly seen outside the realm of primitive tribalism, and it is therefore appropriate to keep the Nazi’s “final solution” firmly in mind as a kind of standard for judging when or whether the term may be applied to any situation.

Is the Israeli military currently undertaking actions that suggest its goal is to exterminate all Palestinians from the Earth? Obviously not. On the other hand, was the Hamas attack of October 7th suggestive of an intention to exterminate all Jews from the Earth? One could make a much stronger case for that, in spite of the practical limits of the attacks, in light of the longstanding and well-known official platform statements of the leaders of Hamas to precisely that effect.

Those keen on exploiting incendiary language by way of loose and irresponsible application will point to specific statements, by particular Israelis (including members of the government), alleging the antisemitism of “all Palestinians,” or declaring the need to avenge the Hamas attacks by striking at “the Palestinians,” as supposed evidence of genocidal intention. To this linguistic looseness and exploitation, I offer two replies.

The first reply is that what people prodded to extremes of anger and outrage (and fear) might feel or imagine is very different from what they actually do. Just as a man deeply upset and driven to despair by someone might, in a dark moment, feel a desire for that person’s death, or even harbor a crazed imagination of killing the person himself, but without ever really intending — in the rational and motivational sense of that word — to carry out a murder, so a people driven to a fever pitch of anguish over a “last straw” kind of offense against their peace and dignity might find their emotions flaring up to outbursts of “kill them all” irrationality, although such emotions do not entail any manifestation in action, and neither is there any reason, given the practical conditions and evidence, to suspect they ever will. In other words, there are contexts, personal and political, in which certain extremes of immediate emotional response are quite understandable in human terms; understandable, though of course not rationally praiseworthy. (And this is one of the reasons why decent humans have always resisted the move toward criminalizing “hate,” or any other feeling or attitude. Mental events are not actions. They are part of the natural ebb and flow of inner experience; but the only thing that matters, from a legal or political point of view, is what a person does, and not how he feels, or what thoughts might pass through his mind under trying circumstances. To treat the thoughts and feelings of a moment as criminal acts is to presume infallible rationality and impassibility as the default human psychological condition, from which any variation constitutes fundamental evil, a presumption which only a fool or a totalitarian-minded activist would make.)

The second reply is that the moral sleight of hand which the psychologists call projection is standard operating procedure among propagandists of all kinds. Just as progressives are keen on accusing resisters of being haters, when it is they whose entire theoretical edifice is built on foundational layers of envy, spite, and a childish wish to tear down (and redistribute) everything that they themselves lack the ability to build; just as totalitarian collectivists for a century (particularly on the left) have loved to brand themselves the “true democrats,” while smearing their opponents as anti-democratic; so in this case, opponents of Israel (or at least Israeli government policy) are awfully quick to leap to the most extreme accusation of “genocide” to describe actions clearly undertaken in self-defense against, and in direct response to, a governing Palestinian political faction that owes its entire existence to fomenting and appealing to irrational fear and loathing of “the Jew,” and in the face of street scenes of Palestinians, at home and around the world, openly cheering on the acts of wanton inhumanity carried out against Israeli Jews on October 7th. (And I note that I am one of those disinclined to support the Netanyahu government’s actions and rhetoric in this context — but also that I am not one of those inclined to mask the ugliness of Hamas, or the fact that Hamas’ vulgarity is popular among Palestinians, behind phony ascriptions of genocidal motives to the very people who feel, with some measure of reason, that they are fighting for their survival against the genocidal intentions of their enemies.)

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